What Beaufort-area residents see as their defense against the area's stifling heart, some criminals view as a source of cold, hard cash, authorities say.
More than two dozen air conditioners have been reported stolen from vacant properties on Lady's and St. Helena islands and in Seabrook over the past two months, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh said.
Investigators believe the units are being stolen for copper components, which thieves can sell for scrap, McIntosh said.
"It's likely that some of these incidents may share a common suspect, but we don't have enough to link them all," she said.
The crime is hardly new in the Lowcountry.
As the value of metals has risen during the economic downturn, such thefts have become a problem as opportunistic criminals target catalytic converters from cars, manhole covers, copper wiring, stainless steel and anything else they might be able to sell, McIntosh said.
A new state law went into effect last year to help stymie copper thefts across the Palmetto State. It requires anyone trying to buy, sell or transport nonferrous metals, such as copper, to first obtain a permit from their local Sheriff's Office. The law also requires anyone stopped by a police officer while transporting these materials to supply a copy of the permit.
As authorities try to tamp down this most recent rash of thefts, McIntosh said residents should report suspicious activity, such as a vehicle transporting multiple air-conditioning units or scrap metals, or people seen tampering with or removing a unit.Property owners also are encouraged to regularly check vacant properties.